San Antonio’s 32-member Housing Bond Committee met for the first time Wednesday to start discussing how the City of San Antonio should spend the $150 million set to be included in the housing portion of the 2022 municipal bond, the largest amount of money ever included for that purpose.

Unlike San Antonio’s four other citizen bond committees — which will be reviewing specific park, street, drainage, and facility projects — the Housing Bond Committee will be setting priorities for its slice of the city’s proposed $1.2 billion bond rather than identifying specific projects to be approved by voters.

The housing bond money can be used to build new housing units and rehabilitate existing housing, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told the committee. It’s up to the committee to come up with what populations and what kinds of projects should be prioritized.

“The actual language on the ballot will be very general to properly inform the public while providing needed flexibility to consider a range of projects that further [the] priorities and objectives of this committee,” Houston said.

The housing bond represents a shift in how San Antonio both spends bond money and addresses housing needs.

The city included $20 million for housing in its 2017 bond, but that money could be used only to purchase property and facilitate private sector development. A charter amendment approved by voters in May permits the city to pay a developer or a housing provider directly to produce affordable housing, as well as pay for repairs and other financial tools.

Setting priorities

The priorities for the housing bond can be population-based, such as targeting households that earn up to 30% of the area median income (AMI), and strategy-based, such as focusing on building apartment complexes or downpayment assistance, Houston told the committee.

Other examples of strategy-based priorities that the bond committee could consider include single-family construction, home rehabilitation, land banking, rent buy-downs, permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness, and gap financing for potential homeowners and developers.

“We have a really important job here to do,” said Katie Vela, executive director of the South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless, who co-chairs the committee. “We all know through our work, and even in our personal lives, how difficult it can be to locate housing, and there’s a pressing need — [an] unprecedented need because of the pandemic.”

Houston said the priorities identified by the committee should be in line with the nearly completed Strategic Housing Implementation Plan (SHIP), which outlines how public and private entities could spend $3.3 billion over the next 10 years to reach the city’s affordable housing goals.

According to city data, 95,000 San Antonio residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing, considered an unsustainable burden. The housing implementation plan aims to help those residents by building more affordable housing, preserving existing affordable housing stock, and raising incomes through job training over the next 10 years.

The area median income (AMI) for an individual in the San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area is $51,900; it’s $74,100 for a family of four. The city defines affordable housing as that which a household making 60% or below the area median income can afford. That’s an individual earning $31,140 or a family of four whose income is $44,460.

Public input, which includes in-person and virtual meetings, for the housing implementation plan will continue until at least late November. City Council is expected to approve the plan in December.

This graph outlines how the city's Strategic Housing Implementation Plan (SHIP) plans to assist about 95,000 residents whose housing costs are too high.
This graph outlines how the city’s Strategic Housing Implementation Plan (SHIP) plans to assist about 95,000 residents whose housing costs are too high.

Bond election in May

Housing will be one of six bond propositions put to a vote in May. The 2022 housing bond will fund projects over the next five years. The city is expected to propose another $150 million in the next bond.

If the bond is approved by voters, the city will issue requests for projects that fit into the housing priorities outlined by voters. Those projects will also be vetted according to a framework developed by the city Housing Commission, which gives deference to sustainable housing that connects residents to work, services, and recreational and educational opportunities.

“Where we think that [affordable housing] should go is a really important question … I think it’s an important and missing element in a lot of these conversations,” said committee member Christine Drennon, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Trinity University.

Several committee members said they would like to see the poorest residents prioritized over those who make the median income or more.

“I don’t think that we should … use city taxpayer dollars to fund the development of 120% AMI housing, ” said committee member Rich Acosta, a realtor and president of a housing assistance nonprofit.

Committee member Mia Loseff, a director at the nonprofit Texas Housers, an advocacy group for low-income housing, said the bond should focus on those who make 50% AMI or less and on preserving housing stock.

“Especially in these districts 2,3, [and] 5 that have older housing stock and are also [home to] lower-income families overall,” Loseff said.

Former Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), chair of the Housing Commission, also co-chairs the bond committee, which is composed of three representatives appointed by each City Council district.

The bond committees will meet several times before they finalize their recommendations by Jan. 12, Houston said. City Council is slated to vote on each bond package in early February, sending it all to voters on May 7.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org